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The organization of the Symposium on “Origins of Agriculture and Domestication of Crop Plants in the Near East”, held at ICARDA's headquarters near Aleppo, Syria, 10-14 May 1997, was initially coordinated from the Genetic Resources Program of the University of California. We thought it would an excellent opportunity for participants to meet Jack Harlan and discuss his new book The Living Fields - Our Agricultural Heritage with him. When we extended an invitation to him in early 1995 to attend the Symposium, Harlan immediately accepted but cautioned that he would be more than 80 by then. The proposal to give him an award for lifetime work, in the form of a plaque composed of seeds of cereals and legumes which he himself collected in the Near East in the 1940s, came later. Unfortunately, Harlan injured himself in a road accident and despite valiant efforts at recovery could not participate in the Symposium. The participants at the Symposium heartily agreed to dedicate the Symposium to Jack Harlan.

We thank the authors of the papers for their excellent presentations and for their dedication in preparing the final versions of their manuscripts and submitting them punctually. The Symposium was successful in assembling outstanding speakers who delivered very interesting presentations that throw new light on several topics. We would also like to thank the experts for the opportunity to visit and review with them the work carried out by them at several archaeological sites close to the Euphrates in northern Syria.

Fresh knowledge in the field of archaeobotany and plant science is becoming available each day with the deployment of new and more exact techniques, such as the use of DNA markers for carbonized seeds and isozyme analysis, as well as radiocarbon dating by accelerator mass spectrometry. Future symposia will no doubt highlight these findings and further clarify the scenario under which agriculture had its beginning.

We thank ICARDA for promptly producing a Book of Abstracts of the papers presented at the Symposium in October 1997. In this volume most of the papers in their entirety are included which, it is hoped, will provide much useful information to those working on the mysteries surrounding the advent of agriculture from some of the leading scientists in the field, and also to those who would have liked to participate but could not do so owing to the relatively short notice or lack of financial support.

Besides the most supportive role played by the Director Generals of ICARDA, Professor Dr Adel El-Beltagy, and of IPGRI, Dr Geoff Hawtin, both of whom graced the inauguration of the Symposium, the editors would also like to thank the cosponsors, Genetic Resources Conservation Program of the University of California; the Institut de Prehistoire Orientale Center National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS); the Department of Antiquities, Aleppo, and the Institut Français de Archéologie au Proche Orient (IFAPO). The Plant Production and Protection Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is thanked for the financial support toward the production costs of these proceedings. Financial support from the French Embassy in Damascus made it possible for five archaeologists to participate. We would like to thank the Ambassador of France to Syria for this generous assistance.

We would like to express our most sincere thanks and appreciation to Linda Sears of IPGRI for devoting more than four months of her time and effort to language editing and preparation of the final layout and Index. Without her considerable professional skills, which were deployed here to the fullest, it would have been impossible to bring out this volume in the stipulated time frame.

And last, but not the least, S. Varma of ICARDA is to be congratulated for the splendid job of designing the cover and liaising with the printers for the final production processes of this proceedings volume.

A.B. Damania
J. Valkoun
G. Willcox
C.O. Qualset

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